As we countdown to Russia 2018, we take a look at all 32 teams and suggest a reason to back them. With five days to the big kick-off, it is the turn of Iceland.


Why should you support Iceland? Easy, sure their name is only a clumsy keyboard stroke away from Ireland. Case closed.

Not convinced? Well, they're also a small island nation with questionable weather in their first ever World Cup.

A run to the quarter-finals is a big ask, but the similarities with Ireland's plucky underdog Italia 90 campaign are there.

They definitely won't get to meet the Pope but the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill might appreciate a visit before they play Argentina in Moscow on 16 June.

Not content with reaching the quarter-finals of the Euros at their very first attempt in 2016, where they knocked out England along the way, Heimir Hallgrímsson’s side showed their feats were no fluke by topping their UEFA qualification group for the World Cup.

They took six points from Turkey, four points from Ukraine and three from Croatia.

The only real blip was a surprise 1-0 loss to Finland but they bounced back in style to beat Ukraine 2-0 at home and then Turkey 3-0 away before sealing top spot with a routine 2-0 victory at home to Kosovo.

And so, the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup (population 340,000) will be back on the big stage with their 'Viking Thunder' slow hand-claps.

A key concern will be the fitness of star man Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was their top scorer with four goals in qualifying.

The attacking midfielder's season ended in March with a knee injury but, speaking this week to the Liverpool Echo, he insisted he was still confident of being involved.

"I think I'm kind of tough mentally," said the man Everton paid £45m for last summer.

"I think it kind of comes from us (Icelandics) basically training outside in the winter when the astro surface is literally frozen and covered in snow.

"Being from Iceland, you don't really dream of getting to the World Cup and it's more of a wish, so hopefully it will happen.

"For us to be involved in the World Cup is just incredible."

But, even if he doesn't, Iceland are far from a one-man team. Midfielder Aron Gunnarsson, also recovering from a knee injury, starred in Cardiff's promotion-winning season and in Burnley's Jóhann Berg Gudmundsson they have a lively winger who had eight assists in the Premier League last term and has scored seven international goals.

Augsburg striker Alfred Finnbogason scored 12 times in 22 games for his club last season and three in qualifying.

Defensively disciplined, hardworking and direct - they love a long throw - Iceland will fancy their chances of reaching the last 16.

Starting against highly fancied Argentina is not ideal but they will fear neither Nigeria nor qualification rivals Croatia.

Hallgrímsson, who still works part-time as a dentist and is also the scout for the Icelandic women's team, believes that commitment and togetherness are what make Iceland contenders.

"We know we don't have the best passing team, so we are not bothered about statistics about successful passes, or percentage of ball possession... we have to be better elsewhere," he said.

"We have to be harder-working than our opponents, we have to be disciplined, we have to be really organised, we have to be focused, we have to be good at set pieces... so these are things that have to be instilled in all our players."

"We've got a bond between the fans and the team, and that's what we need to get results.

"Nobody is too big to play for this team. Our biggest star (Sigurdsson) is also the guy who works the hardest.

"Thats what identifies the team's spirit."

Goalkeepers: Hannes Thor Halldorsson (Randers FC), Runar Alex Runarsson (FC Nordsjælland), Frederik Schram (FC Roskilde).

Defenders: Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Ari Freyr Skulason (K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen), Birkir Mar Saevarsson (Hammarby), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (FC Rostov), Hordur Magnusson (Bristol City), Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (Maccabi Haifa), Ragnar Sigurdsson (FC Rostov).

Midfielders: Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Malmo FF), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Kardemir Karabukspor), Rurik Gislason (FC Nurnberg), Samuel Fridjonsson (Valerenga), Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City).

Forwards: Alfred Finnbogason (FC Augsburg), Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson (FC Rostov), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV Eindhoven).

You can follow the FIFA World Cup from 14 June with RTÉ. Live blogs of every game on RTÉ.ie and the News Now App, with 56 games live on RTÉ television and all 64 games available on the RTÉ Player.